Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

Back on Track to Address Climate Change in the Commonwealth

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 - posted by hannah
The overhaul of SB 615, a bad bill for the climate and the commonwealth, puts Virginia back on track to addressing climate change.

The overhaul of SB 615, a bad bill for the climate and the commonwealth, puts Virginia back on track to addressing climate change.

As introduced, Virginia’s SB 615 was the kind of legislation that spells trouble for the nationwide effort to limit carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants: it would have preemptively kept Virginia from complying with the new limits that EPA will set this summer.

Thanks to the outpouring of opposition to SB 615, now we’re back on track to protect the EPA’s authority to regulate Virginia’s carbon pollution. Here’s how the story unfolded over the last few days.

The original version of SB 615, sponsored by state Senator Charles Carrico, would have dealt a staggering blow to the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon pollution in Virginia. But that plan changed course dramatically in committee on Thursday after citizens reacted swiftly to the news that passing SB 615 would amount to an abrupt about-face on addressing carbon.

With calls and emails to legislators, face-to-face constituent meetings, and a 60-person march on Capitol Square last Monday, Virginians demanded that our leaders stand up for our future and reject any step that moves us away from climate solutions. When the committee meeting convened on Thursday, citizens packed the room wearing anti-SB 615 stickers to watch the debate and hold senators accountable for their votes, and much to the pleasure of those attending, SB 615 was first on the docket, but in a new, drastically amended form.

The overhauled language was a tremendous improvement: the bill would only mean that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is required to study the costs and benefits of Virginia complying with the new EPA regulations, and only a few lines remained limiting Virginia’s efforts to address carbon, reflecting that the General Assembly intended to refrain from passing any limits on carbon emissions more stringent than the EPA regulations.

Representatives from manufacturing, utilities, and the coal industry spoke in favor of that version of the bill, and representatives on the anti-SB 615 side answered with appreciation for the idea of a balanced study while plainly voicing opposition to the one vestige of anti-EPA language contained in the new version. It is needless and premature, it was argued, to say that Virginia does not intend to act to reduce its emissions more than EPA requires when those limits have not yet been announced. In response to this point, a member of the committee moved that those lines be stuck, the change was accepted, and the bill passed unanimously in that amended, innocuous form.

We deserve be proud that legislators heard our call and did the right thing. It goes to show that getting mad, getting organized, and getting visible can work to get the outcomes we want from the General Assembly that represents our interests and responds to our concerns, including carbon pollution.

Common Sense, Nonsense, and a Climate Fight in the Making in Richmond

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry's “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern this year is SB 615, which seeks to undermine the EPA's authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

Days into the legislative session, a slew of pro-coal bills have been introduced to the Virginia General Assembly, including SB 615, a bill to undermine the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

The 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly is underway, and state lawmakers are wasting no time! We are tracking their activities and want to make sure you have all the information you need on several important bills coming up this session. Check back for regular updates and watch your inbox, we will be sending rapid response email alerts when important votes are coming up.

Legislation this session falls into two categories: the bright ideas that bring Virginia closer to a future of safe and reliable clean energy, and the downright crazy bills that do the opposite and must be stopped. Here is the breakdown, with a debt to the blog Power for the People for many of the details.

In Virginia, we have a voluntary goal for increasing our state’s investments in renewable energy. Increasing the state’s investment in carbon-free fuels depends on clarifying and reforming this renewable energy goal, but unfortunately that isn’t going to happen overnight. One big focus this year is the concept of “banking renewable energy certificates (RECs).” Virginia utilities purchase these certificates and apply them toward their contribution to the renewable energy goal.

Currently, the rules around this matter are lax, allowing utilities to save up their RECs indefinitely and purchase them only rarely, which defeats the program’s purpose of spurring new renewable energy development. HB 822 and SB 498 would address this problem by essentially stamping a “use by” date on RECs so that utilities have to use RECs within five years. This change would result in utilities purchasing RECs in the market more regularly, incentivizing emissions-free sources.

Energy efficiency is the cheapest way Virginia can reduce its dependence on carbon-emitting fuels. Yet electricity providers in the commonwealth offer little to no opportunity for their customers to invest in energy efficiency measures for their homes. Instead, customers are left having to do it on their own. HB 1001 would require power companies and cooperatives to adopt such programs — particularly benefiting folks with low or fixed incomes.

In addition, several proposals are being considered this session that would break down longstanding obstacles to clean energy installation. Some homeowners associations still have neighborhood rules against residents putting up solar panels, and as long as individual rules was in place before 2008, they are valid and legal. SB 222 would remove such a ban, although restrictions on size and placement would still be allowed.

Two innovative approaches to clean energy project funding are also in the works. HB 880 and SB 351 make it easier for a larger number of Virginians to put up money to crowdfund any community endeavor, including a community-owned solar project. Excitingly, HB 1158 would facilitate a grassroots approach to sharing the cost and benefits of a solar installation by allowing “virtual net metering” so the clean energy generated can be divided among participating residents, similar to a server splitting a check evenly between members of a large party.

Then there are the bad bills. Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry’s “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern is SB 615 which would cripple the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia. We are starting to see similar bills pop up around the country as part of a national effort to thwart the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon pollution. To voice our concerns about the bill, Virginians gathered in Richmond on Monday and marched for action on climate change. The march was coordinated with Virginia Conservation Network’s Annual Lobby Day, which brings citizens together to meet with their representatives on a whole host of legislation that impacts conservation, transportation and environmental issues in the commonwealth. SB 615 could come up in committee as early as this week.

Yesterday, citizen champions for clean energy and environmental protection assembled to hold briefings on the issues, visit legislator’s offices, and finally marching on Capital Square for climate solutions. Our fight isn’t confined to one day, but continues through the end of this legislative session and beyond, so keep an eye on this blog (and on your email inbox) and stay involved!

Hannah Wiegard: Binge-watching “Doctor Who” and Bettering Virginia’s Energy Options

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 - posted by hannah
Hannah invites you to travel in time and help rewrite clean energy history

Appalachian Voices’ new Virginia campaign coordinator, Hannah Wiegard, invites you to travel in time and help rewrite clean energy history.

In my college years, I discovered activism and cultivated a belief that we could generally solve the world’s problems. I’ve kept my optimism, yet over time I began to worry as I learned that Virginia, my home state, is in trouble, with mountaintop removal coal mining destroying our mountains and fossil fuel energy doing damage to our air quality and the climate.

I joined Appalachian Voices to help steer Appalachian Power and Dominion Virginia Power toward clean energy. Over the recent winter break, I got a jump on this massive undertaking in what may seem an unusual way: by becoming utterly engrossed in a Doctor Who marathon. I maintain that it was time well-spent in the fight for clean energy sources and efficiency for the Old Dominion.

For non-Whovians, suffice it to say that nearly every episode of the sci-fi show is based on the premise that events happening now shape the world decades into the future. And I got to thinking, what if executives at Virginia’s electric utilities truly realized their power to affect Virginia’s energy landscape for years to come?

Over the next few years, Virginia will commit itself to one of two paths where our energy sources are concerned and, as the Doctor might say, create one of two possible future versions of Virginia. The future we must avoid is one in which Virginians are robbed twice; first, when they pay more to heat and cool their energy-inefficient homes and businesses, and again when utilities put an extra charge on their monthly bills to build costly, dirty fossil fuel plants. The health care costs and environmental losses from continued over-reliance on fossil fuel in that scenario are tragic, and the carbon footprint of the new power plants that would be built is frighteningly enormous.

But that doesn’t have to happen. With skilled leadership and diligent citizen involvement, we can write a better ending to the story of Virginia’s energy choices. By increasing access to energy efficient home improvement programs, for example, we can use Virginia’s talented and well-trained workforce to reduce energy demand and electricity bills. In addition, Virginia can meet its future energy needs by bringing clean, renewable energy projects online, like offshore wind and rooftop solar installments. The fossil fuels that would have been needed for conventional power plants stay in the ground where they won’t pollute the air and water.

That’s what I call an alternate future where lives are saved Doctor Who-style. And it brings us closer to the big-picture ultimate goal for humanity: sustaining a livable, stable climate for planet Earth.

It doesn’t take a time traveler to understand how cause and effect work. Every citizen in Virginia has the potential to rethink the course we’re on and act in favor of the greater good over the long term. We have a narrow window of opportunity to address this future catastrophe. Like the Doctor, we won’t accept injustice and irresponsibility. That’s the lesson I draw from binge-watching the BBC, and to my companions in the struggle for New Power for the Old Dominion, ‘Allons-y,’ ‘Geronimo,’ and let’s fight on.

McAuliffe Lauds Carbon Capture Technology, But Coal’s Impacts Go Beyond CO2 Pollution

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Virginia Govenor-elect Terry McAuliffe says carbon capture technology could be the key to putting coal miners back to work in Southwest Virginia. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Virginia Govenor-elect Terry McAuliffe says carbon capture technology could be the key to putting coal miners back to work in Southwest Virginia. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This week, the press ran stories about the man who will soon be sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd governor hailing “clean coal” as “the answer to putting [Virginia] coal miners back to work.”

Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe’s claim that “we need to build on the assets we have” by using carbon capture technology paints a worrying picture of a fossil fuel-based economy dominating Southwest Virginia’s future for decades to come.

Rules to reduce carbon emission from new and existing coal plants are coming. The notion that experimental carbon-capture controls will help reverse the down-trending coal market is a catchy talking point, but isn’t a better goal to make coal communities healthier and more resilient rather than maximize coal company profit? Wouldn’t growing new sources of reliable, affordable energy matter more to the region in the long-term than prolonging fast and furious mining and burning of coal?

For an analogy, I think of a dieter who, believing he’s turning over a new leaf, plops down on the couch with giant bowl of low-calorie potato crisps, a bag of “lite” puffed-corn cheese poofs, and a 20-ounce diet soda to wash it down. He’s found snacks engineered to taste good although the customary oils and sugars are absent. When it’s all gone, he has satisfied his urge to munch without maxing out his daily calorie count. Great plan, right?

Maybe … if weight were the only measure of health. But it isn’t, and carbon pollution isn’t the only measure of coal’s impact on Virginia. Continuing to mine and burn Virginia coal will still cause serious problems: more destructive mountaintop removal, toxic mining waste, air and water pollution from power plants, and as southwestern Virginia feels the worst effects of deferring our clean energy future.

There are numerous risks to banking on a single industry to support a region, particularly when it receives state-backed support to the exclusion of other sectors that would better improve the health of the community. Cutting carbon emissions is an important end-goal, probably the most important priority of our time, but that’s not all there is to it. Shackling southwestern Virginia’s future to coal unfairly limits what the region’s talented and hardworking people can achieve.

Coal does not have to be the last chapter of Appalachia’s story if resources are put toward job training for other industries instead, home weatherization and wind turbine construction, for instance, and if leaders focus on overcoming the obstacles to economic diversity by truly serving the public interest.

Just because a certain food won’t make you obese doesn’t mean you can live on it forever. Just because something like carbon-capture technology comes along that might make burning coal a little cleaner, doesn’t make it a long-term solution for a richly beautiful region that deserves a diverse, sustainable economy.

Mapping Forest Change in Mountaintop Removal

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 - posted by Erin

Researchers at the University of Maryland have just released the first high-resolution map of global forest change in the 21st century. University of Maryland Professor of Geographical Sciences Matthew Hansen and his team published “High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change” in the scientific journal Science last week. The project uses Landsat data, satellite imagery collected by the United States Geological Survey. A Google Earth Engine team created the map through high performance processing of geospatial data, to complete a time-series analysis of over 650,000 images to characterize forest extent and change between 2000 and 2012.

The online map provides imagery in a series of colors to document forest loss and gain. The accompanying article covers some expected and well known trends – deforestation of portions of the tropics from timber harvest and clearing for agriculture, as well as forest change in boreal forests from forest fire. Overall, the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers of forest between 2000 and 2012, but gained 800,000 square kilometers elsewhere, for a net loss of 1.5 million square kilometers.

The researchers noted one prominent trend in the United States: the disturbance rate of forests in the Southeast was 4 times that of the South American rainforest. In this case “disturbance rate” includes both the loss and regrowth of forest. Several factors may contribute to this high rate of change. In several Southeastern states, pine plantations are grown and harvested on relatively short cycles – more like other crops than natural forest. Another reason for the high rate of change may be mountaintop removal coal mining.
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Climate Action Plan has Major Implications for Coal

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - posted by molly

By Brian Sewell

In late June, President Obama announced his administration’s climate action plan. The speech at Georgetown University signaled to Congress that the president was keeping his promise to come up with executive actions to address the threat of climate change, and reignited claims of a “war on coal” in Central Appalachia and nationwide.

The centerpiece of the administration’s plan is an order to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on the amount of carbon emitted from the United State’s nearly 600 coal-fired power plants.

While there is no promise that the EPA will meet future deadlines, a specific timeline for future rules was included in a White House memo sent to the EPA. The EPA is now required to finalize standards on existing plants by June 2015. States will be given a year to submit implementation plans for the rules.

In the meantime, coal’s future looks increasingly bleak. In July, the World Bank announced it will end the financing of coal plants except in circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives. And Goldman Sachs issued a paper with the blunt title “The Window for Thermal Coal Investment is Closing.”

Following Obama’s speech, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) led a delegation of state officials including West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, mine industry representatives, and union officials to the White House to urge the EPA to scale back its plans to impose stricter rules on both the burning and disposal of coal.

While Gov. Tomblin informed the media that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the receptive attitude of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, he told the Beckley, W.Va., Register-Herald that “if [the EPA] is making policies we can’t live with, then obviously the only alternative we have is to go back to court.”

Where Should Renewables Go?

A recent study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that wind and solar achieve greater health and climate benefits in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia than in other parts of the country, because they replace the most electricity generated by coal plants. “A wind turbine in West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California,” said Kyle Siler-Evans, a Ph.D. researcher from Carnegie Mellon University.

EIA’s Future: Not Without Fossil Fuels

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its biannual International Energy Outlook, which forecasts worldwide energy use during the next 30 years. While renewable energy sources and nuclear power will be the fastest growing energy sources through 2040, the report projects that fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, will still comprise 80 percent of world energy use.

By 2040, the report estimates that renewables’ share of world energy use will be 15 percent, up from 11 percent in 2010.

Spruce Mine Veto Upheld, Again

A federal appeals court in July denied Arch Coal’s request to rehear their challenge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of a permit for a massive West Virginia strip mine. A three-judge panel in April had ruled that the EPA had the legal right to revoke a Clean Water permit in 2011 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had awarded years before to Arch Coal. The EPA said destructive practices at the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would cause irreparable environmental damage. Arch Coal currently has a 90-day period to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stepping Toward Wind and Solar Energy in Virginia

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 - posted by nathan
English offshore wind farm

Virginia may not be a renewable energy leader anytime soon, but the commonwealth is coming closer to embracing industries that will yield economic and environmental benefits.

The call for action on climate change has grown louder in the weeks following the announcement of the Obama administration’s climate action plan. As the president laid out in June, the plan that leads to a more sustainable energy policy, and as the newly confirmed administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, reminded us this week, it is also an incredible opportunity for job creation.

In Charlottesville, Va., last week, Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos and City Councilwoman Dede Smith spoke about climate change at a press conference that was organized by Environment Virginia. The speakers highlighted the need to reduce carbon emissions by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, while removing support and subsidies for dirty energy sources.

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President Obama’s Address on Climate Protection Plan

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 - posted by jw

Update: The speech covered a lot of ground and held a lot of promise – but was missing several critical points. Read Appalachian Voices’ press statement.

Watch the President’s speech, with coverage beginning at 1:55 EST. Do you think this plan is strong enough? What improvements or changes would you make? What do you think these changes will mean for your state, or for the Appalachian community as a whole? Let us know in the comments – jw

Read the President’s Climate Action Plan
Fact sheet

Adapting Farms to Face the Climate Challenge

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 - posted by Chelsey

By Brian Sewell

Photo by Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Photo by Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Around the world, farmers are arguably the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and of all the systems put at risk, food may be the most fragile. Some of the largest grain and livestock producing states are still recovering from last year’s drought-stricken season. And forecasts for this summer are calling for frequent storms, erratic precipitation patterns and expanding drought.

While Appalachia has not seen severe weather of the same magnitude or frequency as America’s heartland, the region is similarly vulnerable to price volatility of food staples, threats to forest ecosystems, and severe rain shortages and surpluses that cause dry spells and flooding.

Two reports released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in February address the long list of pressures climate change will put on the food and forest systems that are central to Appalachia’s agricultural economies. Short-term impacts will be caused by invasive species and insects, leading to a higher cost for pest control. The wildfires so prevalent in the Great Plains and grasslands last year will also increase. By mid-century, the area of the United States susceptible to wildfires is expected to double.

While the Southeast and areas with higher elevation are not expected to warm as quickly as other parts of the country, even slightly higher temperatures can shift growing seasons and stress crops, and potentially drier summers in parts of the Southeast could lead to water shortages and irrigation woes.

To improve the agricultural sector’s resilience, state climate offices and groups such as the Southeast Climate Consortium are conducting research and educating farmers on climate variability and predictions for long-term temperature trends.

According to the USDA, farms must adapt while states and the federal government work to mitigate the factors putting agriculture at risk. Growing a diversity of crops, having advanced irrigation technology, fertile soil, clean water, and the knowledge and financial security required to respond will help current and future farmers meet the climate challenge.

While it may take longer for the most crippling effects of climate change to reach many parts of Appalachia, being unprepared will come at an increasingly high price.

First Annual Climate Convergence in Raleigh, NC

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 - posted by sandra

Citizens converged in Raleigh yesterday to demand that political leadership begin to address the challenge of climate change. North Carolina House Rep. Pricey Harrison reminds the crowd that the state legislature belongs to the people. She recently re-introduced the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act that would a) ban the burning of mountaintop-removal coal in the state, b) put into place comprehensive rules for the storage and disposal of coal ash waste, c) place a moratorium on the construction of new coal plants, and d) divest state pension funds from fossil fuels.